Why Care About Hooking a Reader?

Photo Courtesy of Pixabay.

Seems Like an Easy Question
Simply put, if you don’t hook your readers, they won’t get into the story. If readers don’t get into the story, they won’t have a reason to keep reading.

No readers? No book sales. No book sales? Goodbye writing career. So, getting it right is an important part of the writing process.

Suspense is one of the techniques you can use to hook them, but it’s always been true that all suspense comes out of giving the reader information. After all, you can’t expect people to have anxieties, if they don’t have something to be anxious about.

Think about the pandemic and recent country-wide riots, and the fear many people felt, or still do. That’s what it’s like.

In other words, if you tell the reader there’s a bomb in the room, and it’s going to go off in three minutes…that’s suspense…and it’s a highly emotional process, like being on a roller-coaster ride.

Put Characters in Jeopardy
The information you provide for suspense all comes down to creating these four vital factors: empathy, concern, impending danger and escalating tension.

You create reader empathy by giving the character a desire or internal struggle. Something readers can identify with. Once they care about a character, readers will be invested when they see that character struggling to get what he desires.

The more readers empathize, the closer their connection with the story will be.

If readers become engaged in the story, suspense builds as danger approaches. But it doesn’t have to be a physical life-and-death situation. The threat could involve the character’s psychological, emotional or spiritual well-being instead.

However, if tension doesn’t escalate, the suspense you’ve been trying to develop will evaporate. Suspenseful storytelling is like inflating a balloon. You can’t stop blowing or you let the air out. You have to keep blowing more in, tightening the tension until the balloon looks like it’s going to pop any second.

Then blow in even more…until the reader can hardly stand it.

Include Promises
It’s important to remember that suspense happens in the moments between the promise of something dreadful and its arrival. If readers complain “nothing is happening” what they’re really saying is no promises are being made.

Contrary to what you might think, the problem of readers being bored by inaction isn’t solved by adding action. Suspense is anticipation, after all. Action is the payoff. You don’t increase suspense by making things happen, but by promising they will.

Keep Every Promise You Make
In tandem with making promises is the obligation of keeping them. But you’d better deliver. The bigger the promise, the bigger the payoff the reader wants. A huge promise without the fulfillment isn’t suspense…it’s disappointment.

If you spend three paragraphs describing a woman’s multi-colored silk scarf, that scarf had better be vital to the story. If not, you’re telling your readers, “Oh, by the way, I wasted your time. That part really wasn’t important.”

Never disrespect your readers like that.

When stories falter it’s not usually because the writers didn’t make big enough promises. It’s because they they broke those promises by never fulfilling them at all. When readers invest their time, they want that investment to pay off.

Know the Difference Between Suspense and Mystery
A story moves through action to moments of reorientation when the characters process what just happened…and make a decision that leads to the next scene.

We do this in real life as well…we experience something moving or profound, and then decide how to respond. When a story lags, it’s almost always because of missing tension.

Mystery, on the other hand, is an intellectual process…like a riddle.

In a mystery, you don’t need to answer every question. In fact, it’s important to leave some questions unresolved, so the audience will still be thinking about them at the end of the book.

Be One Step Ahead of Your Readers
When I write I’m constantly asking myself what the readers are hoping for, or wondering about, at each point in the story. Our job as writers is to give them more than they ever bargained for.

Make it personal. As you develop your story, appeal to readers’ fears and phobias. Think of things that frighten you most, and use them. You can be sure many of your readers will fear them as well.

No matter what you write, good prose really is all about sharpening the suspense. Follow these hints, and you’ll keep your readers up way past their bedtime.

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Gentle Readers, my books have all garnered some terrific reviews. You can see all of them by using the Amazon link below. Check them out. Better yet, buy one and read it. You just might like it.

buy now;

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You’re invited to visit my author’s website, BROKEN GLASS to hear the remarkable radio interview about my novel “Blood Lake” on The Authors Show, or see my three local television interviews. You can also like my Book of Face page, find me on Goodreads, or follow my shorter ramblings on The Twitter.

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Comments posted below will be read, greatly appreciated and perhaps even answered.

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4 Responses to “Why Care About Hooking a Reader?”

  1. Anthony Ambrogio Says:

    Glad to be able to read your thoughts and advice on writing, Ron. I wanted to comment on the previous “Painting with Light” you did, but somehow I never got around to it. (Here we are, in the midst of the pandemic, with more time on our hands than some of us know what to do with, and yet I didn’t manage to write a response in a timely manner.)

    You make some excellent points about hooking the reader and then keeping him/her hooked, about the nature of suspense and how to create and maintain it.

    My only meager contribution to your analysis is this: whenever I’ve been fortunate enough to be asked to read before an audience, I always read the beginning of whatever work I’ve brought. The beginning may not be the most exciting or “sexiest” part, but my feeling is that, if you cannot interest your reader from the get-go, then s/he won’t stick around for exciting and sexy.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Ron Herron Says:

      Thanks, Anthony –

      Good point. I know I’ve talked about that frequently. If you haven’t got their attention by the first page, you can put all that other stuff in there and never have it read.

      By the way, you can visit all my posts and comment on them at any time.

      (and I know it’s hard to find time, with all the time available…I have to stop sometimes and figure out what day it is)

      Like

  2. Ron Herron Says:

    Once again, Bob, glad I can help.

    Like

  3. Bob Wonnacott Says:

    Ron,
    I really like this post. You explain the 4 elements of how to keep the reader engaged. I will be re-reading this often. I believe this is harder to achieve when writing a memoir than when writing a novel, but I will try to follow this whenever I can. Thanks again.

    Liked by 1 person

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